PRESS RELEASE: A Step Forward to Keep Children Safe Online

Published date: 
11 Jul 2018

PRESS RELEASE

A Step Forward to Keep Children Safe Online
Children’s Rights Alliance Responds to Government Launch of Action Plan for Online Safety

The Children’s Rights Alliance has welcomed the publication of the Government's Action Plan for Online Safety as a first step toward keeping children safer in the digital world.

Tanya Ward, Chief Executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance commenting today said: “The Government needs to get the balance right between empowering children to explore the opportunities of the digital world and at the same time minimise risks. Children have a right to be protected from violence, exploitation and abuse in the digital world. Too many children and young people have been exposed to harmful content, grooming and inappropriate adult behaviours online. Also, some children are using technology in a way that is excessive or unhealthy.

This Action Plan is an important step towards protecting children online. Importantly, it focuses on building the capacity of children to protect themselves through education programmes. We welcome the commitment to consult with children and young people on the Action Plan implementation which will ensure that they are at the heart of this plan. The Plan also includes a national information campaign on tools to educate parents on how to keep their children safe online. The Action Plan talks about developing appropriate guidelines for the usage of digital technology. That is really important because we know that premature exposure of very young children to the digital environment has limited benefits.

The Action Plan proposes introducing new online criminal offences tackling stalking and revenge porn as recommended by the Law Reform Commission. It also recommends building online safety into Tusla, the Child and Family Agency’s guidance on child protection. This is very welcome.

When it comes to industry, the Action Plan proposes that businesses should be encouraged to sign up to its Code of Practice and Ethics for internet providers. The Government also commits to work with industry on developing a guide for online platforms and interactive services to support best practice in online safety in design. This is very well but it also critically important that the Government requires businesses to implement safety by design, privacy by design and privacy by default for children and young people. For example, businesses should be required by law to perform regular child-risk assessments to make sure digital technologies and their productions are safe for children. Going forward the Government could consider imposing this duty.

As a country we need to be more ambitious when it comes to making the online world safer for children. Currently a child can access inappropriate and harmful content within three clicks - we know that children can access pornography by accident or deliberately. To better protect children, we need Government to put the onus on businesses to adopt effective systems of age-verification. This is the best way to ensure that children are protected from products, services and content which are linked to strict age limits such as pornography.

Finally, the Action Plan notes that the Government will work with the Oireachtas on the development of a Digital Safety Commissioner. This is welcome. If we are serious about children’s online safety we have to ensure that this new body is established as a priority. Currently no public body has the power to regulate the industry nor instruct a business to take down harmful content about a child. This is a gap that we must close.

The Council of Europe issued a recommendation only last week on the rights of children in the digital environment – this provides a useful road map for states on how to keep children safe online. Today’s Plan from Government is very timely as it coincides with the roll-out of this important guidance from the Council.”

ENDS

Contact: Emma McKinley Tel: 01-6629400 / 087 6559067, Email: emma@childrensrights.ie.

Notes to Editor:
• Tanya Ward is available for interview.
• The Council of Europe’s recommendation on the rights of children in the digital environment can be found here.

About the Children’s Rights Alliance
Founded in 1995, the Children’s Rights Alliance unites over 100 members working together to make Ireland one of the best places in the world to be a child. Further information is available at: www.childrensrights.ie or on Twitter, @ChildRightsIRL